Archived Story

Wanderlust eventually leads us back home

Published 11:41am Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Column: Tales from Exit 22, by Al Batt

The Fuller Brush man was my idol.

He traveled.

I didn’t.

When I was a farm boy, my family traveled away from the greater Hartland area only for weddings, baptisms, confirmations, graduations, reunions, and funerals — all conveniently held within two states. Our travels were even more compressed than that — southern Minnesota and northern Iowa confined us.

We were dairy farmers, tethered to the barn. My father explained our lack of travel by saying that the rich people lived on the other side of town. In place of wealth, the folks who resided on our side were given rocks in our fields. It seemed unfair.

Dad was a homebody. He was happy going to Vivian’s Cafe and Einar’s Hardware. He needed travel like he needed another aperture in his cranium.

I traveled in my mind. They were very short trips. My mind was always somewhere else. If I was sure where, I’d have moved there. I read hand-me-down National Geographic magazines, I watched travelogues (while worrying about contracting malaria from them) and envied the traveling geese flying overhead. Bird field guides were my travel books.

I married young. Like most newlyweds, we had little money. Time filled with work, school and family. We were trying to make something out of hope and hard work. We took on the world and found that much of life is a hill. We learned precious things, but we didn’t travel. Having no time or money didn’t stop us from traveling, but it sure slowed us down. The farthest we ventured was to Nebraska and that was work related.

Travel was just around the corner, but never that corner.

Mark Twain encouraged me by writing: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

We wanted to dabble in travel, but we jumped in with both feet instead. We went to Israel. It was a trip of a lifetime.

When I travel, I say a prayer of traveling mercies.

Many of us do. We pray for a safe trip, a sharp mind, a well-behaved vehicle, good health, green lights, cheap gas, etc.

I read the book “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott. The author claimed the two best prayers she knows are, “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

My wife loves to travel with me. That way, when she uses an airport restroom, there is someone to watch her bags.

I’ve been on the road a lot recently. Speaking, telling stories, writing, doing radio things and leading occasional tours in Ohio, Illinois, Utah, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, Washington (both state and D.C.), Montana, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Alberta, British Columbia, etc. Uffda!

Traveling has its peculiarities. I’ve watched gate lice, a term for airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board, line up so early, you’d have thought they were going to a Black Friday special. I’ve flown in planes so cramped that it was like sitting on a folding chair at a five-hour funeral. Planes so crowded, I felt like a T-Rex. I could move my arms only from the elbows down. I’ve sat next to glum fellows who considered baggage claim a lottery.

We travel far from home and look for things like home. We compare, like the optometrist does as he tests our prescription, “Is this better or is this better?”

I love to travel. I go places where I’m allowed on the furniture, but I’m not sure that’s why I travel. Perhaps the lack of traveling in my youth bred wanderlust.

After some recent shambolic travel, I returned home happily. I love traveling and I love coming home. I’m Minnesota grown. I have a severe case of Gopheritis. I’m a dairy farmer’s son. Whenever people complain about the state’s weather, taxes, roads or politics, I tell them TIM. Not TMI, which stands for “Too Much Information.” It’s TIM, which means “This Is Minnesota.”

Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveler.

When I went to Israel, I knew it was a trip of a lifetime. Then I had an epiphany while driving to a funeral of someone important to me. I realized that every day is a trip of a lifetime.

I wish each of you traveling mercies whether you travel near or far.


Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.